Sotomayor brings “a depth of experience and a breadth of perspective that will be invaluable as a Supreme Court Justice,” Obama said at the White House, with Sotomayor by his side.
Obama has found somebody whose unlikely ascent to power is similar to his own life story. Obama highlighted Sotomayor’s humble roots. She grew up not far from Yankee Stadium in a Bronx Housing project. The daughter of Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor lost her father at 9 and was largely raised by her mother.
Sotomayor, 54, said growing up in those “modest and challenging circumstances” helped her “respect and respond to the concerns and arguments of all litigants who appear before me, as well as my colleagues on the bench. I strive never to forget the real world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government.”
“It is a daunting feeling to be here,” Sotomayor said after introducing her mother, Celina, and other relatives in emotional terms. “I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences. Today is one of those experiences.”
Obama had made clear his preference to replace retiring Justice David Souter with someone who has “empathy” for the concerns of everyday Americans and said he found such a person in Sotomayor.
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“It is experience that can give a person a common touch, and a sense of compassion, a sense of how the world works and how ordinary people live. That is why it is a necessary ingredient in the kind of justice we need on the Supreme Court,” Obama said.
Obama said he looked for two qualities in his nominee – a rigorous intellect and an understanding that a judge’s job is to interpret law, not make it – and said he found both in Sotomayor. And he called on the Senate to put aside partisanship to approve Sotomayor speedily, so that she could join with the other justices in picking case for the court’s new term in October.
Republicans already have balked at Obama’s timetable. And of the four widely reported finalists, Sotomayor was the one Republicans said they would complain most loudly about, and conservative legal groups attacked within minutes after Obama’s selection was reported.
Republican Mitt Romney, a likely 2012 presidential contender, called her nomination “troubling. Her public statements make it clear she has an expansive view of the role of the judiciary. . . .What the American public deserves is a judge who will put the law above her own personal political philosophy.”
Still, Sotomayor is unlikely to tip the ideological makeup of the court, since she is replacing Souter, who often sides with liberals to sway key 5-4 decisions. But at age 54, she gives Obama the chance to leave his stamp on the court for decades to come.
Obama also stressed her qualifications as a judge, saying she has more judicial experience now than any current justice had when they ascended to the bench.
In Sotomayor, Obama has chosen a nominee who will greatly please two powerful constituencies in his own party — women and Hispanics — that had openly lobbied for one of their own to replace Justice David Souter.
Hispanic groups and even members of Congress had pushed hard for representation on the court, suggesting that the community would be let down if Obama passed over a qualified Latino. In fulfilling their wishes, Obama moves to solidify his hold on the pivotal Hispanic vote and tighten his party’s grasp on the west.
Even Republicans admit her confirmation is assured in a Senate dominated by Democrats.
But Senate Republicans say Sotomayor represents anything but a consensus pick, since her appeals-court confirmation vote in 1998 was 67-29 vote.
Previewing the right’s planned reaction, Wendy E. Long, counsel to the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, said in a statement: "Judge Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important that the law as written. She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one's sex, race, and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench.”
However, the fact that Sotomayor is a Latina could also present a political challenge for Republicans. Senators from the GOP, which has suffered from an internal rift over immigration issues and troubled efforts to reach out to Hispanics, will have to decide how directly and sharply they want to attack a Latina whose confirmation to the court is virtually certain.
Republicans plan to pound a videotape in which Sotomayor said on a Duke University Law School panel in 2005 that the “court of appeals is where policy is made”
“And I know,” she added, “I know this is on tape, and I should never say that because we don’t make law. I know. O.K. I know. I’m not promoting it. I’m not advocating it. I’m — you know.”
A product of New York’s parochial schools, Sotomayor went to Princeton (summa cum laude) and then Yale Law School.
She worked for the Manhattan DA’s office, did a stint in private practice before being named to the Appeals Court by President Bill Clinton in 1998.
She would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the nine-member panel and become only the third woman among 111 justices in the court's history.
Liberal activists have signaled that they are unlikely to oppose Sotomayor, though some favored more of an ideological firebrand given Obama’s strong political position and the large majority Democrats enjoy in the Senate. One seed for suspicion among some liberals is that Sotomayor was first nominated as a federal district court judge by President George H.W. Bush, in 1992.
Michael Keegan, head of the liberal People for the American Way, said the choice of Sotomayor shows that Obama is doing “exactly what he promised in last year’s election—to select a person who has demonstrated an abiding commitment to core constitutional values of justice, opportunity, and equality under the law. He has named someone who understands the impact that the law has on the everyday lives of ordinary Americans.”
Sotomayor’s nomination is likely to draw attention to the divisive issue of affirmative action, due to a ruling she joined last year against white New Haven firefighters who complained that their rights were violated on a promotion test that was withdrawn after African-American candidates did poorly on it. The case caused a bitter divide among 2nd Circuit judges and is set to be argued before the Supreme Court this term.
Obama’s decision to pick a nominee who bring affirmative action to the fore is a curious one since he has raised questions about the practice, at least in some cases.
When Sotomayor’s named was widely floated in recently weeks as one of the leading contenders for the court, some legal commentators opined that her opinions did not have great intellectual heft and that she was unlikely to fulfill the role of a judicial powerhouse who could win over moderate judges by the weight of her argument. Many of the critics were anonymous lawyers who had handled cases before her.
However, a group of former clerk and other attorneys quickly rose to her defense, saying that she is a top-caliber jurist.
Some scholars contend that the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court was actually Justice Benjamin Cardozo, whose served on the court from 1932 to 1938 after being nominated by President Herbert oover. Cardozo was of Portuguese descent.